RC judge rules in favor of recall language

ROGERS CITY – A group of Onaway women won a victory Thursday when a judge ruled they can pursue a recall of Onaway’s mayor and two of its city commissioners. However, the county decision could be appealed. If it survives that process, the women would have to get enough signatures from the community’s registered voters to hold a special recall election.

Presque Isle County Election Commission Chairman Dan McLennan made the decision unanimous Thursday afternoon at the County Commissioner’s meeting room during a clarity hearing to evaluate the language of the recall allegations.

When he announced his own vote, Shaloy leaned back and gave a sigh of relief.

“I’m elated. This has been a long process and it’s stressful,” she said. “We definitely need a change.”

The issue came to a head earlier this year, when Onaway commissioners decided not to renew the contract of Police Chief Jim Gibson, who had been the city’s only peace officer. He has worked in law enforcement 26 years and served Onaway for 14 years.

According to earlier reports, he was let go because of budget issues.

When Shaloy and several other women decided to pursue the recall effort, they lost the first round April 23 at a clarity hearing in Rogers City.

McLennan, County Treasurer Bridget LaLonde and County Clerk Ann Marie Main determined that two of the three allegations in the language of their petitions were not based on fact, but instead on opinion. One issue was whether or not the police chief’s departure represented a clear disregard for the safety. The community is some 23 miles from the Presque Isle Sheriff’s Office in Rogers City.

So Shaloy and her supporters rewrote and submitted new petitions for review, which passed muster. This time, they alleged, Mayor Gary Wregglesworth, and Commissioners Jessie Horrocks and Chuck Abshagen failed to make decisions to retain the Onaway police department.

“I do think the language is clear and factual,” said LaLonde. “Leave it to the voters to decide.”

McLennan noted that a new Michigan law requires clear and truthful language, but does not define what “truthful” means. More clarification could be handed down in the future, though, if rulings are appealed to a higher court.

Horrocks, the only one of the three to attend the hearing, argued against the new language. Onaway is pursuing other options regarding police protection, she said. She added that she has been responsive to the needs of residents, because she has been re-elected numerous times during her 16 years of service.

The next step depends on whether the Onaway commissioners decide to appeal the ruling to a higher court for clarification.

Onaway Mayor Gary Wregglesworth said that decision will be made today.

The community’s next election will be held this November, and two of the commissioners are up for re-election, he said. However his post as mayor is slated to be decided next year.

Meanwhile, if their petition effort is delayed by appeals, Shaloy said she and her group have found three residents interested in running for the seats this fall.

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at blehndorff@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.